Antidepressant medications relieve the symptoms of moderate, severe, and chronic depression. Depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain (e.g., serotonin) and antidepressants work by increasing the availability of these chemicals.
Nevertheless, there are those who doubt their efficacy, partly because of myths surrounding antidepressants. These myths are ultimately harmful to those who can benefit from taking these medications, because in some cases, not taking them may worsen one’s condition.
Here are some of those myths that you should stop believing immediately.
#1. Antidepressants change one’s personality
Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) affect the brain’s neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. They regulate mood and anxiety and may relieve symptoms like sadness and irritability. There’s a myth that they can change one’s personality, but it’s largely unfounded.
That taking psychotropic medications will alter one’s feelings and personality is a common but ultimately misguided belief. Taking antidepressants is actually vital in helping people return to their normal selves and regain their identity. Those who have experienced “emotional numbing” while on antidepressants likely did so because they’ve taken the wrong type of antidepressants.
#2. Antidepressants have intolerable side effects
Like most medications, antidepressants can cause side effects such as headache, dry mouth, anxiety, and decreased sex drive. The myth surrounding such side effects is that they are frequently severe and unmanageable. In reality, many of the side effects are temporary, mild or both; most people can tolerate antidepressants’ side effects, and there are a handful of ways to manage them.
Side effects may also be caused by other drugs taken concurrently with antidepressants and may occur depending on the type and dosage of the drugs being taken. This is why it’s important to advise your doctor about other drugs you’re taking. And although antidepressants do affect one’s sex drive, alternative treatments and strategies do exist that can reduce their effects on libido.
#3. Antidepressants are addictive
Fact: Antidepressants are not classified as addictive medications. The only thing they have in common with addictive substances and medicines (e.g., certain over-the-counter medicines like cough suppressants, marijuana, and certain types of stimulants) is that withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur if discontinued abruptly. These symptoms include disrupted sleep, dizziness, headaches, tiredness, and flu-like signs (accompanied by chills, muscle pain, nausea, and excessive sweating).
Your dosage of antidepressants should be reduced gradually. Determining the period of time in which to reduce intake of antidepressants should always be with the recommendation and guidance of a clinician.
#4. Antidepressants are ineffective
This myth is often compounded by another myth — that antidepressants are unnecessary and that therapy is the only thing that can help. Combining therapy with medication is actually the most ideal treatment plan for overcoming depressive disorders. One study even provides compelling evidence for antidepressant drugs’ effectiveness in preventing relapse for patients with depression.
#5. Antidepressant drugs are “happy pills”
The mention of a “happy pill” or a “happy drug” brings to mind certain types of substances (legal and illegal) that have nothing to do with antidepressants. The belief that antidepressants induce euphoria and that taking them will make one happier needs to be quashed. One may well become happy when medications restore one’s health and vitality, but conflating antidepressants with “happy pills” is plainly erroneous.
#6. Starting on antidepressants means you’ll be on them for life
The fact is that a small percentage of people who have had two or more relapses from major depression can expect their clinicians to prescribe them with long-term antidepressants. So it certainly shouldn’t be too concerning that once you start on antidepressants, you’ll be on them for years and years.
Furthermore, it’s not inconceivable to come off one’s antidepressant meds after trying them for at least six months to a year, and not relapse. But bear in mind that it’s important to be continuously guided by your clinician to make sure that you’re taking the right medications and therapy to prevent symptoms from recurring.
The mental health professionals at Meridian Psychiatric Partners LLC can thoroughly evaluate your mental state and offer a highly personalized treatment. We serve clients in the Chicago, Evanston, Lake Forest, and surrounding areas. Talk to us about your doubts and concerns about the treatment of depression and anxiety.